Late Quaternary eolian dust in surficial deposits of a Colorado Plateau grassland: Controls on distribution and ecologic effects


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DOI: 10.1016/j.catena.2006.02.003



In a semi-arid, upland setting on the Colorado Plateau that is underlain by nutrient-poor Paleozoic eolian sandstone, alternating episodes of dune activity and soil formation during the late Pleistocene and Holocene have produced dominantly sandy deposits that support grass and shrub communities. These deposits also contain eolian dust, especially in paleosols. Eolian dust in these deposits is indicated by several mineralogic and chemical disparities with local bedrock, but it is most readily shown by the abundance of titaniferous magnetite in the sandy deposits that is absent in local bedrock. Magnetite and some potential plant nutrients (especially, P, K, Na, Mn, and Zn) covary positively with depth (3-4 m) in dune-crest and dune-swale settings. Magnetite abundance also correlates strongly and positively with abundances of other elements (e.g., Ti, Li, As, Th, La, and Sc) that are geochemically stable in these environments. Soil-property variations with depth can be ascribed to three primary factors: (1) shifts in local geomorphic setting; (2) accumulation of relatively high amounts of atmospheric mineral dust inputs during periods of land-surface stability; and (3) variations in dust flux and composition that are likely related to changes in dust-source regions. Shifts in geomorphic setting are revealed by large variations in soil texture and are also expressed by changes in soil chemical and magnetic properties. Variable dust inputs are indicated by both changes in dust flux and changes in relations among magnetic, chemical, and textural properties. The largest of these changes is found in sediment that spans late Pleistocene to early Holocene time. Increased dust inputs to the central Colorado Plateau during this period may have been related to desiccation and shrinkage of large lakes from about 12 to 8 ka in western North America that exposed vast surfaces capable of emitting dust. Soil properties that result from variable dust accumulation and redistribution in these surficial deposits during the late Quaternary are important to modern ecosystem dynamics because some plants today utilize nutrients deposited as long ago as about 12-15 ky and because variations in fine-grained (silt) sediment, including eolian dust, influence soil-moisture capacity.

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Late Quaternary eolian dust in surficial deposits of a Colorado Plateau grassland: Controls on distribution and ecologic effects
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